On The Air
by Christine Petersen
January 27, 1999
After a long period of hard work, Free Seattle Radio is now on the air
at 87.9FM in the evenings after 5pm. Broadcasting since Dec. 9, FSR is
audible from Northgate to White Center for radios with a good antenna or
analog tuner, and comes in strongest in the Capitol Hill area. In addition
to creative and diverse musical offerings, the collective of FSR broadcasters
is striving to provide a high quality alternative news broadcast which
can fill the gap left by the elimination of the KCMU
newshour two years ago, and compensate for the inadequacies of NPR and commercial stations. Operating with an impressive assemblage of home-built equipment--cobbled together in spite of FCC obstacles in terms of purchase of parts and ability to test signal quality--FSR hopes to expand its hours of broadcast and provide a much better representation of the local
community than currently exists elsewhere on the spectrum.
The startup of this station comes during a nearly unprecedented level
of FCC crackdown on micropower radio stations. After several years of legal
limbo during which the prominent Free Radio Berkeley station went through
several rounds of court appeals in its fight to gain legal broadcasting
status, the FCC has shut down 250 micropower stations throughout the
country during the past 10 months. FCC Chairman Kennard offered some surprisingly hopeful and inspiring remarks during a recent speech in which he suggested the creation of a special micropower station license category and spectrum region, in order to allow communities some means by which to retain locally-oriented broadcasting. In the wake of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, large numbers of local stations were bought up by national media giants, which have cut costs by simply playing the same news shows on every station they own--whether those stations are in Baltimore, Gainsville, or Seattle.
In the same speech, however, Kennard warned of a strict intolerance for radio "pirates" who operate without proper licenses (no license currently exists for low wattage, non-commercial stations). The National Association of Broadcasters and NPR both loudly voiced their opposition to the possible creation of this new, competing radio station category. The FCC announced a plan to hand down a decision on the future fate of micropower stations during the month of December, but as of last week, no decisions have been made public.
While only one of literally hundreds of micropower stations in existence
throughout North America, Free Radio Berkeley is inarguably the most celebrated
and famous station because of its leadership position in the legal fight
for micropower broadcasting. Free Radio Berkeley broadcasts 24 hours a
day, and has had over a hundred local volunteer DJs from 1993 to
mid-1998. After finally losing their legal appeal last year, FRB's Stephen Dunifer was prevented from broadcasting by the threat of enormous fines, yet he still continues to sell low cost radio "educational kits" to individuals throughout the country, and to argue the cause in the media.
Recently, a new group of broadcasters protesting the shutdown of Free
Radio Berkeley began a tree-sit in the top of a large redwood tree in Willard
Park in Berkeley. Broadcasting as Tree Radio Berkeley, this particularly
tireless small group endured several harsh rainstorms and 50mph winds as
they remained in the tree for 13 days. During that time they experienced
little friction from friendly local police, but received a couple of threatening
visits from the FCC. Local community members also
brought coffee, food, and tapes to broadcast.
Locally, we can now tune in to Free Seattle Radio to hear a wide variety
of programming. And another group in North Seattle is actively working
to found a community-oriented micropower station. You can read about it
on the Web at: http://www.radio4all.org. In the meantime, tune in to 87.9
FM--especially during their news broadcast, from 5 to 7 PM.
Radio4all's Micro Power News